Over the following nine years of my discipleship, I would meet some of the most unique individuals I've ever met and I'll do my best to draw attention to them as my story unfolds. First, though, I want to acknowledge my boyhood friend, David Moretti (pictured above).
Dave was my best friend through grade school. His father worked for the Almaden winery when there were still vineyards in Silicon Valley, and his mother worked for a local bank. Unlike my parents, Dave's mom and dad hadn't divorced.
I spent just about every day after elementary school hanging out at the Moretti's house. When the whole family was there, it could get loud. Dave had two older brothers -- Mike and Mark -- and disputes between rival football teams (Dave, Mark and Mr. Moretti were partial to the Dolphins; Mike and I liked the Raiders) could devolve into a physical fracas on the floor of their living room, usually between Mr. Moretti and his oldest son, Mike. It was scary and fascinating.
In the summers, Dave and I would spend the days riding bikes or playing football or baseball. On one memorable day, Dave and I were tossing a football in the front of his house. I ran a post pattern that took me down his driveway, across the street and then back onto the lawn of the house across the street. Dave timed his pass perfectly, hitting me just as I crossed onto his neighbor's lawn. I brought the pass in for a touchdown and began my end zone dance.
Before I could really get my celebration dance going though, I heard Dave scream, "Joe, look out behind you." I'd never heard of a Rottweiler before that day, but one was fast approaching me with its fangs bared. Like my Oakland Raider hero Cliff Branch I was at top speed and dashing back across the street like I'd been shot out of a cannon. As Dave and I lay on the floor of his kitchen panting and laughing a few seconds later, I could still hear the faint echos of the dog's snapping jaws at my heals.
As it turned out, the guard dog belonged to Dave's new neighbor: Joseph Bonanno. There were no hard feelings though. Mr. Moretti walked a case of Almaden wine over to the Don's house to welcome him to the neighborhood, and later we'd often see the old man watering his lawn. Unfortunately for us, however, we'd lost some good football real estate.
As Dave and I reached our teens, we began to drift apart, though we'd remain friends through our high school years. Before that happened, however, Dave did something extra-ordinary, something that was to shape the way I looked at myself and also the way I judged the character of others I was to meet in the years ahead.
Late one afternoon, Dave and I were walking through the grounds of our elementary school when nobody else seemed to be around, when we were accosted by a neighborhood tough who pulled a knife on me and held it to my throat. I was scared and crying and felt helpless. The guy was a high school kid; Dave and I were 10 or 11 at most.
Seeing my situation, Dave pleaded with the guy to take the knife off me and instead put it to Dave's throat. The guy listened, and after holding the knife against Dave's neck for a while, the guy finally let us go.
Through the course of my later life, I would meet some truly unique and noble individuals -- some of whom I'll try to profile as this story continues. None, however, surpass David Moretti, who as a 10 year old put himself in danger in order to help a friend.